MasterMinds

Dallas Observer Masterminds 2014: Meet the Winners of Our Annual Art Awards

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Vicki Meek: Preserver of African-American Culture
When the Nasher Sculpture Center announced which artists would produce the 10 public artworks for its Nasher XChange program, Vicki Meek was the only solo Dallas artist on the list. "Black & Blue: Cultural Oasis in the Hills" focused on Bishop College, the now-closed historically black college that was once a center of African-American intellectual and artistic culture in Dallas.

In its heyday, Bishop brought Maya Angelou, Alex Haley and former Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks to the city and was instrumental in the formation of the African American Museum and the Dallas Black Dance Theater. After it closed, Paul Quinn College wound up taking over the premises and, according to Meek, everyone in the city seemed to stop talking about Bishop, as though it never existed. Installed at Paul Quinn, the site-specific "Black & Blue" aims to tell the story of Bishop College and its role in Dallas history.

"My work is about reclaiming African-American history," she says, and her contribution to the Nasher Xchange is just a small part of that. A native of Philadelphia, Meek now heads the South Dallas Cultural Center, where she's been since the late '90s. Since opening in 1986 the SDCC has been dedicated to presenting, producing and ultimately preserving the culture of the African diaspora, particularly through excellence in the arts. It's been instrumental in linking young and developing African-American artists with vital resources as well as providing arts education and role models for children.

In the world of arts administration many artists struggle to find a balance between creative and managerial work, but Meek says administrative work doesn't sap her creative energy and she shifts from one role to the other easily. "I've never been only one thing," she says. "I'm a lots-of-balls-in-the-air kind of artist."

That versatility is a product of entering the professional world after getting her MFA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1974. There were few opportunities for black women in mainstream art and Meek says she never had any interest in being a starving artist. So she augmented her work as an artist where she could, first teaching at Kentucky State University, then making the transition into arts administration.

Today the SDCC is a 34,000-square-foot facility that houses a visual arts gallery, a 120-seat theater, multiple dance companies, the Soul Children's Theater and a digital recording studio. Her office has become a repository for anything valuable, extraneous, or just in need of storage, like CDs or a set of trumpets for the youth music program. The center works with similar organizations in West Africa and the Caribbean, including a youth trip to Senegal in 2008 (and another planned for 2015), where the center has developed ties with the minister of culture, and a folklorico company in New York based in Cuba. Meek is also finishing the details of a program through the Japan Foundation that would focus on similarities between jazz and traditional Japanese music.

As a city entity the center gets a small budget from Dallas, plus funding from wherever Meek has been able to find it. "My goal was to put this place on the national and international map," she says, and she's done it. The center is now in the process of securing funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, a huge milestone for both Meek and the people the center reaches.

"You can have all the museums you want, but if you don't have living artists to put in them eventually you'll run out." -- Luke Darby

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